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You don't need a big bait to catch a big fish

Blog by: Bill Prater 10/26/2023
One quirk of living to an overly ripe old age is, I can probably afford the 20 bucks needed to buy today’s big old, post-Covid bass plug. But I'll be damned if I’ll do it. And thanks to revolutionary new downsized techniques and a positive attitude toward multi-species fishing, I don’t need to.   

Here’s one fishing cliché that does not apply to Northern Colorado: “You need a big bait to catch a big fish.” (You may think of others, like: “Hey, isn’t it time to put away that warm water stuff and hope for a good hard freeze?”) But for now, let’s just talk about fishing with gear that may be smaller and lighter than what you may be comfortable with.  

Yes, we’re talking seriously ultralight. Or as enlightened folks now call it, “micro finesse.” Really, the new part is not really about using ultralight gear. It’s just using ultralight for more than catching panfish. The past few years have seen  introductions of remarkable new and lightweight baits, lines, rods and reels, together with the concept that the biggest predators feed most of the time from the same trough as their panfish cousins. 

Loveland Fishing Club founder and current President Tom Miller earned his fisheries degree in that long-gone era when fish were primarily seen as a cheap meal. In these days of catch and release, he still has a gruesome way to learn what that big bass or trout had for lunch: He’ll carve it up and study stomach contents. Tom reports the big fish eat nearly everything that fits in their mouth, but in lean times he can find little more than bugs mixed into an algae salad. The point is, most meals for most fish large and small are not giant shad, they’re tiny minnows, bugs and whatever else floats by. Hey, I’ve got lures like that.  

Anyway, I for one have pretty much had it with big gear and big baits. Medium-heavy rods are bad for my arthritis anyway. I probably should have a garage sale, but for now that kind of stuff is gathering dust in the Prater basement.   

Okay, it’s taken me most of a long lifetime, but I’ve come to realize that, outside the fly fishing department, sporting goods stores around here are stocked with roughly the same gear as the ones in Orlando, Florida. Aisle after aisle, you find hundreds of big baits geared for a single species, mostly largemouth bass and walleye, sometimes saltwater species. Ultralight is pretty much limited to the crappie fishing section, along with an aisle or two of Snoopy/Spiderman gear for kids.   

Big, specialized baits WILL attract big bass or walleye, of course, just not much else. If you’re fishing a tournament where the winner wants to winch in a few obese bass, without being distracted by other sizes and species, that 3-ounce, 8 inch Whopper Plopper works great. I personally prefer to land as many AND AS MANY TYPES of fish I can find, large and small. So, I find myself more and more sampling the water around here with the tiniest jigs and soft plastics available. Which means that, most of the time, I shop in the panfishing section of a store, or reluctantly buy my more specialized stuff online.  

Without getting into a discussion of brands, I’ll just say there are suppliers - one very large, at least one very small - of nearly indestructible, highly flexible baits made of the miracle plastic “Elaztech.” They’re soft as a baby’s butt and tougher than a $3 steak, and float until you hold them under water with a tiny bit of weight. You can buy a pack in the size and colors I relish for 4 dollars or less. Thread one onto a good quality jighead, size anywhere from 1/16th ounce down to 1/80th and fish with it until next fall. Are bluegills biting off the tails of your favorite imitation minnow? Switch to a smaller hook size, baited with something tougher. 

One caveat: the best of today’s plastics are so tough they won’t pair well with the typical lead-headed jig. The fat lead collar that holds softer plastics onto most hooks are barely penetrated by Elaztech. You need sturdy but extremely sharp and thin wire jig heads with a metal keeper collar, hook size of about #8 or #10. The best are virtually lead free, made of steel, tungsten or other alloy. I prefer mushroom style heads for most applications, but a minnow or aspirin shaped head is better if you’re using the same jig for a Gulp minnow. Which is a subject for another day. Meanwhile, the techniques you could be using for warm water species this fall work just as well for winter trout. 

I'd appreciate your feedback.
Blog content © Bill Prater
Blog Comments
Wreckstar, 10/27/2023 11:19:44 AM
Thanks Bill, great read. I started targeting Bass in Colorado this year for the first time ever. You are absolutely right about big baits catching big fish and not much else. I spent several weeks this summer targeting Master Angler sized bass and though I did find a few, 3 this year, that was typically all I caught those days. I also had a 27" Pike nail a crappie jig on my ultralight setup when I was not expecting it. Great fun and much more skill needed to assure I landed that fish, especially when I didn't have a net!
Bill Prater (fishthumpre), 10/27/2023 11:40:09 AM
Good for you. Myself, I really like not knowing exactly what's going to take a bite. Bass this time of year tend to hit softly, hard to distinguish from crappie until they realize something's not quite right.
Doug K, 10/29/2023 1:32:57 PM
well now you're giving away the secrets -) mostly fish BFS these days, baitcast finesse tackle, with similar size and weight of lure. That produced my three biggest CO bass..
SirGreg88, 10/31/2023 8:54:57 PM
I'm more of a trout fisherman but I wont go with any fly smaller than a 10. Once in a while a 12 maybe. Never had much luck with anything bigger than a size 8 either. Those tiny tiny flies/hooks just seem to result in a low hookup ratio--and they get off if you do hook-up--especially with large fish.. I keep a few big trout every year. Their stomachs rarely contain large morsels. Just my 2 cents. However I did keep an 8# rainbow a few years ago from Antero that was absolutely stuffed with 6-8 inch stocker rainbows. Thats the only rainbow I ever caught with teeth like a friggin pike or something. Tore my hands up and I bled for a good hour afterwards.
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